Origin of Dragon Boat Festival and the appetizing Zongzi


Members of Konfu enjoyed a feast of zongzi last week. We offered two types of southern-style zongzi, served with sweet chili sauce to cater to the Taiwanese palate.


The Dragon Boat Festival, falling on the fifth day of May in the lunar calendar, will be celebrated from the 22nd to the 25th of June this year. The festival is marked by dragon boat races and the consumption of zongzi, also known as Chinese tamales. It is one of the three major festivals celebrated in Taiwan, the other two being the New Year and the Moon Festival.


When one thinks of the Dragon Boat Festival, the story of Qu Yuan often comes to mind. Qu Yuan was a renowned patriotic poet and minister in the Kingdom of Chu during the Chinese Warring States Period. Ambitious and keen to help Chu unify the states, Qu Yuan was unfortunately slandered by rival officials and sent into exile.


During his exile, he created many influential works, including the famous lines: "The entire world is corrupt and I alone am clean; everyone is drunk while I alone am sober."


When the capital of Chu was captured by the Kingdom of Qin, Qu Yuan, stricken with grief, drowned himself in the Miluo River on the fifth day of the lunar month of May. In an attempt to protect his body from the fish, locals paddled out and tossed packets of rice into the river. This act is believed to be the origin of the Dragon Boat Festival.


In Taiwan, common zongzi ingredients include glutinous rice, a piece of braised pork belly, a salted egg yolk, a shiitake mushroom, peanuts, and sometimes a chestnut and dried baby shrimps. The fillings are wrapped in a triangular shape with bamboo or shell ginger leaves and then cooked or steamed.

Zongzi can be either savory or sweet. Alkaline water zongzi, a type of sweet zongzi, is soft and gooey. It is delicious with a red bean pastry filling and makes an ideal dessert for the hot summer. It can also be served plain, with honey or syrup added for sweetness.


As the holidays approach, every restaurant begins to showcase its featured zongzi. Sometimes, people can become overwhelmed with zongzi after several meals. Meanwhile, Taiwanese living abroad get creative, making zongzi with ingredients like dried radish from their gardens and salted eggs from their kitchens. In this sense, the Dragon Boat Festival is a collective memory shared by all Taiwanese, and zongzi has become a symbol of home.